Accessibility links

Breaking News

Development Eludes Guinea-Bissau Amid Turbulence

Guinea-Bissau is often at the center or on the edge of turbulence, be it military uprisings, coups, civil wars, the drug trade or rebellions in border regions. Many residents say it takes a long time to recover from such a history and to find development as instability persists. In this third part of a five part series on Guinea-Bissau, Phuong Tran spoke to citizens about their thoughts on the country's prospects for change.

Reminders of the country's violent civil war 10 years ago stretch from the capital to village rice fields. Portuguese colonial-era roads are shattered piles of rubble. Bridges miss large sections, held together by wooden planks and ingenuity.

The Chinese government has promised to repair the bombed out national palace in the capital. The former presidential home is empty, with cratered windows.

In the late 1990s, the military ousted current President Joao Bernardo Vieira, who retook power in 2005 elections that followed another coup in 2003.

Patricia Ribei fled Guinea-Bissau with her family about 10 years ago when she finished high school. She recently moved back, hearing that things were changing for the better. She says she was shocked on her return.

"Everything was destroyed by the war. Everything is destroyed," she said. "The streets. You do not have a regular road. You have a lot of holes in the roads. People are different. A lot of people from the interior came to the cities, so you do not know anyone. You cannot sit and talk with somebody when you do not have the same background. Some people do not even know how to speak proper Portuguese. You do not have conversations with [anyone]."

She says she is waiting to see how things go in legislative elections later this year, and is not yet sure what direction the country is moving.

Government spending is mostly donor backed. The government keeps asking for money, including funds to fight a booming drug trade, pay government employees, and build a prison. But donors are slow in responding, unsure of the government they are working with.

In Bula, a rural town 30 kilometers outside the capital, most residents make their living growing mangos, citrus fruits and cashews. Nestor Mendes has grown oranges since before the country won its independence from Portugal in 1974.

He says he thinks life has improved in recent years and is still getting better. Not so long ago, he says, he could not sell his oranges at the market. But now, he says more people can afford to buy them.

But others are less optimistic.

School director Amadou Diallo says little has changed in the past 10 years. Jobs and schools are scarce throughout the countryside. He says continued corruption makes it hard for him to see progress any time soon.

He says the country is run by leaders who are more worried about getting as rich as possible during short ministerial tenures, rather than what is best for the country.

Government officials admit to some corruption, but say the worse instances of it are being stamped out. Diallo says without proper schools that can teach citizens how to read and figure out right from wrong, corruption will continue to grow.

Opinions even within families vary. Diallo's nephew, Ibrahima Ba, 40, who fled the country during the civil war, disagrees. Ba, who goes back and forth between Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau, says he wants to start a construction company and eventually live here permanently.

"Things will continue to improve if Guinean émigrés come back and serve as an example for other investors to look into the country's potential," said Ba. "We can create jobs for our Guinean brothers and sisters. Because things cannot continue as they have been. I have always believed that Guinea-Bissau will change. But we must lead the way. "

Along Bula's main road, some villagers display twisted, scrap metal in front of their homes, abandoned cars that have long stopped running.

Amadou Diallo says it is a local ethnic Manjaco tradition to not throw away old cars, but to display them publicly. His nephew responds that it is also a way for people to hang on to what they once owned, to show how they lived before the civil war. He adds that once things get better in the country, maybe people will finally throw away these relics.